The External Advisory Group report (EAG) advocating a “Town Centre First” presumption has been accepted by the government. The challenge is in implementing the plan.
It is worrying that the supporting Scottish Planning Policy is not due to be announced until later this summer.
The EAG report concludes that: “The great strength of town centre retail is that it is part of the rich town centre context it takes place in: an integrative human weave of homes, offices and parks, and social, civil and cultural institutions.
“Our response is a vision of the lives, work and play of Scotland’s town centres enlivened by a new sense of community and enterprise.”
The report highlights a tax anomaly causing the decline of town centres: “The iniquity of the VAT system whereby a new-build in a field on the edge of town is publicly subsidised by being excused VAT while the repair of an existing building is burdened with the full 20 per cent.”
The report also supports “Business Improvement Districts”, where local businesses contribute to a local improvement fund. This amounts to a local tax on businesses which are already struggling to cope in declining town centres.
Business rates are collected and administered by Holyrood, giving little incentive for local authorities to be concerned by long-term local planning issues.
If the Deputy First Minister is serious that “We want to take every measure possible to ensure our town centres are vibrant places” (June 2013), the Scottish Government must remove the VAT tax iniquity and provide financial support to town centre businesses, not add to their tax burden. Surely it is better to keep the existing “sense of community and enterprise” rather than spend money and effort creating a new one.